College Sports

Matt Calkins: Is the Washington men’s basketball team being overlooked? Let’s not rush to judgment.

The plaintiff: The Washington men's basketball team.

The case: Huskies vs. Doubters.

The complaint: Being underrated heading into this season.

The evidence: The media leaving UW out of the preseason AP Top 25 poll and picking it to finish third in the Pac-12 despite winning it last season.

Huskies, the floor is yours.

Your Honor, this is a travesty. Not only can this year's squad outdo last year's, but we have the talent to be the greatest Huskies hoops team ever. Yes, plenty of pros have come through our system, but have there ever been two lottery picks in the same year? No.

But that is exactly what can happen if big man Isaiah Stewart and wing Jaden McDaniels play to their potential. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Stewart was the consensus No. 3 recruit in the country. The 6-9, 185-pound McDaniels was the consensus No. 8. We realize experience is valued in this sport, but the most talented players in the country these days are freshmen, and we have two of the best.

That tandem isn't the sole reason we're going to drub the competition this season, though. Look who's returning. Look who became eligible.

Junior Nahziah Carter had a pair of 18-point games last season and averaged 8.1 points in 20.6 minutes. He also scored 13 in our win over Utah State in the NCAA tournament and hit two monumental three-pointers in the second half.

Sophomore Jamal Bey didn't get as much playing time because of how strong the upperclassmen were, but he had 20 points against Western Washington last week and earned heaps of praise from teammates whenever he stepped on the floor.

Five-star recruit Quade Green, the point guard who transferred from Kentucky, just got clearance from the NCAA to play. The 6-10 Nate Roberts and 7-foot Bryan Penn-Johnson, both of whom redshirted last season, are eligible as well. As coach Mike Hopkins said a couple weeks ago, "We have some guys that redshirted last year that are pretty darn good that nobody knows exist."

Speaking of Hopkins, have you seen what this guy has done in just two years? He inherited a team that went 9-22 overall and 2-16 in conference play, then led us to 21 wins and 10 conference victories the next season. Last season, we went 27-9 overall and won the Pac-12 with a record of 15-3, all the while ending an eight-year NCAA tournament drought.

And now he gets to work with a group that he recruited exclusively? We're going to have the whole country talking about us by March. Anything but the utmost respect is an abomination.

Thank you, Huskies. Doubters – state your case.

Your Honor, we appreciate the Dawgs' enthusiasm, and we're not discounting them totally, but let's be real for a second. They lost a lot.

Matisse Thybulle, the only player in Division I history to average three blocks and two steals per game, now plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. Reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Noah Dickerson, David Crisp and Dominic Green graduated, and if you don't think those are significant losses, then you don't know modern basketball.

You see, there is this term known as shooting, and three of the five guys mentioned above were quite good at it. Nowell was 44% from 3-point distance last season, Crisp was 37.4, and Green was 35.1. And given how the NCAA is moving the 3-point line back 1 1/2feet this season, we don't know if anyone on this season's Huskies can knock it down from deep.

Also, experience does matter. Immensely. The freshmen may be the ones who go off the NBA draft boards early, but they're rarely the best players in the college game. Before Duke's Zion Williamson captured it last season, there hadn't been a freshman Wooden Award winner since Anthony Davis in 2012. And, really, how much have dynamic freshmen really helped the Huskies over the past few years?

Three years ago they went 2-16 in conference despite Markelle Fultz later being drafted No. 1 overall. The year before that, freshmen Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray both went in the first round, but Washington finished just 9-9 in league play despite also having the Pac-12's leading scorer in Andrew Andrews.

Excuse us if we're going to hedge on the hype a little. Sorry if we think the loss of the greatest defensive player in Huskies history is going to be hard to overcome. This Huskies team could be special, but that would require a lot of guys with little or no college game experience to play at an elite level.

Good points. Both of you. Here's my verdict.

Actually ... give me four months.

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